What is the value of social proof

Keeping up with the Jonses, wearing the latest trends, following the hivemind… people have a strong psychological need to see what others have chosen before they buy something. The internet has made it incredibly easy to have your say about not only how much you enjoyed or did not enjoy a product, but what you ate for breakfast and also what you think about cats.

Keeping up with the Jonses, wearing the latest trends, following the hivemind… people have a strong psychological need to see what others have chosen before they buy something. The internet has made it incredibly easy to have your say about not only how much you enjoyed or did not enjoy a product, but what you ate for breakfast and also what you think about cats.

This kind of social proof has a persuasive effect because while you’re uhmming and ahhing in the shopping cart of an ecommerce site, it can make the difference between your clicking away or getting out your credit card to make a purchase. In terms of increasing conversion rate, social proof is invaluable, but it’s difficult to regulate and quantify.

Different kinds of social proof

Social proof appears all over the place, in an increasing numbers of places, but I’ve collected a few of the most common forms of it out there at the moment.

Followers & shares: this is the number of people who subscribe to and engage with your content e.g. the number of fans and +1s, tweets, likes and other shares in your networks.

Expert social proof: believe it or not, there are guest post slots out there that are genuine – and there are people who are having conversations around really thought-provoking topics. This is the kind of endorsement that money can’t buy.

User reviews: this is one of my favourite types of social proof, whether I’m ordering takeout or booking a hotel, because unless the reviews are verified, it’s like playing a game of Russian Roulette. Booking.com has a system where users are sent invitations only after they’ve been on holiday, but sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon are less transparent about who writes or curates their reviews.

Endorsements & testimonials: celebrity endorsement, or any endorsements from people who have their own social proof in spades, is golden. But testimonials that are honest, intelligent and provide a reason for you to trust a new product can be just as valuable.

Regulating social proof: are we chasing a white rabbit?

If you’re familiar with HailCorporate on Reddit, you’ll know that users are getting smarter all the time at spotting marketers’ attempts to promote organic sharing. When it goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong (have a look at #AskBG to see what I mean). And there are situations where advertisers are very heavy handed when they’re promoting their products, for example:

But, there are cases where the line is a bit grey, and although we’re aware that the internet is flooded with fake reviews, testimonials, likes, some are easier to spot than others. The ASA will take action for copyright infringement, but they need a few complaints before they’ll investigate a website.

So…what is the value of social proof?

Simply saying that if people testify to enjoying your products, your conversion rate may improve is not always clear enough. According to data released earlier this year, though, correlation between social sharing and rankings continues to increase, and as the chart below indicates, there are higher associations between some social metrics and ranking than between backlinks and ranking. Obviously correlation doesn’t specify direct dependencies, but the overall importance of shares in certain networks is implicit. (You can download the data here if you’re interested).

Do you positively review products you enjoy? What about those you have negative experiences with? Tell us about it in the comments (you know, for the social love…)!

Featured image courtesy of by ansik (Flickr)